It’ll still be more than a week before the Seattle Seahawks take the field at the VMAC for what will look like a traditional football practice — Aug. 14 to be exact.
But when they do, coach Pete Carroll will begin evaluating how two of the team’s most promising young defensive players — linebacker Jordyn Brooks and safety Marquise Blair — will best fit in 2020.
The Seahawks will look for ways to get both on the field this season as much as possible, but neither has a clearly defined role as camp begins.
Carroll, though, threw out some ideas for how each could be used when he talked to the media Monday via Zoom.
Blair, the 47th overall pick in 2019 out of Utah, elicited immense excitement with some spectacular plays in the preseason a year ago.
But Carroll also wanted a bit more discipline in his game, and when the regular season began he was relegated to a reserve role, starting just two games at midseason at strong safety as an injury replacement and another at free safety. Late in the year, when injuries again hit, Carroll sided with Lano Hill instead of Blair as a replacement alongside veteran Bradley McDougald.
Now, with the trade for Jamal Adams to pair with Quandre Diggs — acquired in a trade last October — the question rings even more loudly of what now becomes of Blair.
Carroll said earlier this year Blair could be used in the nickel package, noting Blair was used in the team’s dime package (meaning six defensive backs) at the end of last season.
Carroll’s comment at that time led to the idea that Blair might not necessarily work in the slot as the true nickel corner but would simply be used in that package in some role.
But Monday, Carroll said Blair could indeed be used in the slot, though adding the caveat that it might be more in pressure situations.
“He’s one that’s going to get the opportunity to get in on the slot and do some stuff that puts him in a position to be really active and be part of the pressure packaging and some really aggressive part of the play,” Carroll said.
So, that seems to imply the team could look to use Blair more situationally, which Carroll seemed to confirm when he mentioned Ugo Amadi — another 2019 draft pick who ended last season as the primary nickel — and said he figures to have a role at nickel this year, as well.
“He was a nice factor late in the year playing the nickel spot and he’s gonna be there in coverage situations and battling with Marquise,” Carroll said of Amadi.
So, nickel by committee?
That sorta seems to be the way to read it for now, with the two presenting somewhat differing styles — Blair a hard hitter at 6-1, 196 pounds, Amadi more of a traditional slot defender at 5-9, 201.
But as Carroll said, let the competition begin to sort it all out.
Brooks, a Texas Tech graduate, was something of a surprise choice as the 27th overall draft pick, especially because he seems to project best at weakside linebacker, a position where Seattle has had an established starter for the past seven years — K.J. Wright.
But the Seahawks were enamored by Brooks’ speed and had decided getting faster on defense was a necessity after last season. Wright is also entering the final season of his contract — and, we learned after the draft, Wright also had surgery after last season on his shoulder.
Wright is expected to be fine for the season, but he’s 31 and had knee surgery in 2018, so the Seahawks aren’t taking any chances for the present but also are preparing for the future.
Carroll made clear Monday that the weakside linebacker spot is up for grabs between Wright and Brooks.
“The most obvious path would be the WILL backer spot,” Carroll said Monday when asked where Brooks will start out on defense as he begins his Seahawks career. “We’ll see how that goes. We’ll start in there, and then see how fast he can grasp it, and how soon he can become comfortable.”
If Brooks grasps it quickly, the job could be his from Day 1 this season. The Seahawks already said Wright could be used at strongside linebacker, a position he played during his first two years with the Seahawks in 2011 and 2012.
Once-and-again Seahawk Bruce Irvin is also slated to play the strongside spot, where he also spent a lot of time during his first go-round with Seattle from 2012-15.
But Irvin can also play the LEO rush end spot, and Carroll threw out an interesting idea Monday of Seattle using Irvin, Wright, Brooks and middle linebacker Bobby Wagner all at once.
“There’s options for how we can do that that we’ve worked out,” Carroll said.
The most likely would be Irvin playing the LEO spot, Wright at SLB and Brooks and Wagner inside.
But Carroll said Brooks could end up at strongside, as well, with Wright in that scenario back at weakside (and Cody Barton, a third-round pick a year ago, can’t be completely ruled out as factoring in somewhere along the way, as well).
To Carroll, more important than who lines up where is that the linebacker additions lead to an improved defense this year.
Seattle liked its linebacking corps last year, too, but strongside backer Mychal Kendricks battled injuries down the stretch and ultimately giving up more yards than all but six other NFL teams last season means improvement is still needed everywhere.
“The competition will tell us what we need to do here because the options are all there,” Carroll said.
The biggest hope is that both Brooks and Blair each play well enough to earn their way on the field no matter the position.